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Burglary, fire lands man in state prison

A homeless man who pled guilty to starting a fire in the upstairs of the Moose Club in Warren will spend about 30 months in state prison.

President Judge Maureen Skerda handed down the sentence on Friday against Joseph R. Kuzminski.

According to an affidavit of probable cause, officers were dispatched to the club, 422 Pennsylvania Ave. W., for a “report of smoke in the structure” at about 9:50 p.m. on Feb. 25.

City of Warren fire crews advised that a police response was needed to the second floor of the building where police observed “candles burning in a room that is commonly used as just storage.” A window leading to the roof was also open.

Further investigation found a fire escape on the rear of the building that led to the open window and a “plastic bucket burnt on the floor that started the floor boards on fire” was found. Police indicate they could only determine that it was a bucket due to the metal handle.

In an adjacent room, police also discovered a digital scale, pill bottles belonging to Kuzminski and another individual, phone chargers and a cordless drill, among other items.

Patrons in the club noticed a burning smell but the source wasn’t discovered until someone went outside and observed “a smoke haze on the second floor of the building.”

Kuzminski, according to the affidavit, told police that “he intentionally started the fire in the building to use for light and heat” but “got distracted as he was looking through boxes.”

He then reported to police that the fire was approximately one foot over the top of the bucket and said he “got scared and went out to the bathroom and got a container of water and dumped it on the fire” before leaving the building “when he heard and saw the Fire Department out front of the building.”

Kuzminski’s attorney, Chief Public Defender John Parroccini said that a drug and alcohol evaluation recommended residential treatment for his client.

“He was a homeless drug addict at the time,” he added, suggesting his 133 days incarceration is “probably the cleanest he’s been in some time.”

Assistant District Attorney Tatiana Malys called the Moose Club a “staple” in town and said that Kuzminski didn’t need to start the fire to keep warm as there are housing options available for people in that situation.

She said it was “pure luck” that city fire crews were so close to the scene.

“I know I made a mistake,” Kuzminski told the court, saying he didn’t know why he went there.

He called jail “almost a blessing in a way. I need to get the help,” asking for a second chance at “starting over with my life.”

Skerda took exception to his use of the term mistake.

“It’s not a mistake you are here,” she said, noting he was there to be held accountable for his criminal conduct.

She cited a criminal record that extends back to 2007 and told Kuzminski that he put a great number of people at risk.

“(It) could have been much more tragic,” she said, noting that he was assessed to have a high risk to reoffend.

Kuzminski was sentenced to 15 to 36 months incarceration in state prison with credit for 133 days time served, $3,075 in fines and fees, a no contact/no trespass order at the Moose Club, boot camp and recidivism risk reduction incentive eligibility, submission of a DNA sample and priority for drug and alcohol programming in state prison on a first-degree felony count of burglary.

On a count of risking catastrophe, he was sentenced to 11 1/2 months to 30 months and an additional five to 10 months on a count of theft by unlawful taking.

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